Before disaster strikes…

Before disaster strikes…

Tuesday, 11 May, 2010

Development policy stakeholders are set to meet for the Development Briefings on 12 May, organised for the 18th time in Brussels. This session will concentrate on humanitarian aid and rural development, and particularly focus on ways to reduce the risk of natural disasters.

The meeting, attended by EU and ACP stakeholders from civil society groups, research networks, and government and international organisations, will seek to raise awareness about disaster risk reduction (DRR) strategies.

With the number and frequency of natural disasters rising sharply, often the most vulnerable countries are developing ones with poor capacity to deal with such catastrophes. Currently, the average number of weather-related disasters are three time as high as they were in the 1980s. Experts put this down to the adverse effect climate change has had on the frequency and the number of natural disasters.

A staggering €14 billion was spent on disaster assistance in 2008 alone for over 50 natural disasters and conflicts in the world. This is set to increase as the number of natural disasters rise.

While developing countries strive to make inroads into economic development, they are the hardest hit when natural disasters occur, as they damage infrastructure and reduce productivity and growth. However, the bulk of disaster-related aid goes towards disaster response. In many experts’ eyes, this is not properly addressing the problem. While disaster response draws a lot of media attention and is highly visible, disaster risk reduction strategies are a far more reliable and long-term solution to ensuring the consequences of natural disasters are kept to a minimum.

Reducing risk

By focusing resources on reducing the vulnerability of communities affected by natural disasters, a cost-effective and efficient form of humanitarian aid can be delivered. Numerous strategies can be implemented to promote disaster risk reduction, such as reforestation in landslide prone areas, or planting appropriate crops and teaching effective water use practices to local populations in areas affected by drought.

The EU has its own programme for dealing with Disaster Risk Reduction called DIPECHO, which has contributed more than €186 million since its inception in 1998. DIPECHO projects typically emphasise training, capacity-building, awareness raising, establishment or improvement of local early-warning systems and contingency-planning. In Africa it concentrates in the South Eastern region, where earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, volcanoes and droughts are common.

The economic costs of dealing with natural disasters have risen 14-fold since the 1950s. That is why it is more pertinent than ever to focus resources on reducing the risk of disasters as they hamper development and contribute to poverty. Currently, development aid is directed to cover three main areas:

  1. Humanitarian aid – which neglects long-term considerations
  2. Development assistance – which relies on functioning state institutions
  3. Nation-building activities – which focus on reconstructing the public sector and not on the source of the problem

According to the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, there is growing evidence of the costs of disasters and the economic benefits of DRR.

Food insecurity

However, when natural disasters strike, they inevitably leave a trail of destruction which more often than not wipes out local food sources. Yet none of the above strategies deals with effectively combating long term food insecurity. In this case, it is crucial to link short term access to food with long term structural development.
With developing countries being hit the hardest, disasters widen the poverty gap in the population and increase the rate of poverty.

Food aid is becoming an increasing problem in Africa. In 2005, over 30 million Africans required food aid. This is sometimes exacerbated by conflict – which can be rife on the continent – as 20% of those living in conflict or post-conflict zones lack access to food. Despite this, according to the Red Cross, more people are forced to leave their homes because of environmental reasons than due to war.

The effects of climate change have hit the poorest the hardest. Food security, health and water quality have some of the biggest impacts on people, and increase the number of environmental refugees in the world.

Natural disasters also contribute to Africa and the West most likely missing the Millennium Development Goals’ (MDGs) target of halving those suffering from hunger by 2015. Persistent food insecurity is compounded by widespread political instability, conflict and the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

As food security is directly linked to poverty, longer term solutions are needed to support structural development projects. This is why the EU’s policy, as part of the wider Africa-EU strategic partnership, is to support broad based food-security strategies at the national and regional levels, as opposed to simple food aid handouts. However, while implementing long-term food security policies are instrumental in the EU’s development policy, they can only be met through nationally owned poverty reduction strategies in Africa.

Food aid from the EU is administered by the Humanitarian Aid office and funded through the European Development Fund (EDF), the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI), the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI), and the food security thematic programme.

The panelists at the meeting will discuss these and other issues in greater detail. They will include representatives from the European Commission, the NGO community, the Red Cross, and the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), among others.